90% of life is just showing,” according to Woody Allen. That certainly applies to having an influence on the codes, standards, test methods, and guides that dictate how concrete construction is “supposed” to be done. Most contractors will ask: Who says that’s how it’s supposed to be done? Simple: The people who show up at the meetings, whether they really know or not!
So if you want to have a say, if you don’t want to be stuck with an industry document that makes your life difficult, you’ll have to attend some meetings. But no one can afford the travel time and expense to go to all the meetings on concrete-related matters, so choose wisely.
First, decide which aspect of the industry you want to influence. ASTM meetings mostly deal with test methods or materials specifications—pretty dry stuff unless that’s what you want to change. At ASCC meetings, it’s all about construction techniques or contractor-related issues; at ICRI, everything is repair.
ACI committees are involved in virtually anything related to concrete. ACI meetings happen twice a year, usually in March and October. At each, there will be more than 300 separate committee meetings. There are C-committees, developing certification programs; E-committees, developing educational tools; and technical committees, that produce guides and standards.
So say you got nailed by a provision in ACI 306R-10, “Guide to Cold Weather Concreting,” that states, “Concrete should not be placed on frozen subgrade.” You feel there are some exceptions and it shouldn’t be so absolute. The committee that wrote this document was ACI Committee 306, since the document number and the committee number for ACI are usually the same. You go online and learn that the next meeting is Oct. 23, 2012 in Toronto.
Start with some research. Learn the chairman’s name and who the members are—this information is on ACI’s website. Show up at the meeting. Before the meeting starts, let the committee chair know that you are there and would like to ask a question when the time is right.
The chair calls on you and you say, “This requirement that the ground can’t be frozen is stupid. You should change it.” OK, they’ve written you off as a dumb contractor who only wants to find a shortcut and doesn’t care about quality. You might as well leave now.
Or, you can say, “I have a question about this requirement.” That’s better, but don’t stop there, provide some data or at least describe your experience that under certain circumstances concrete can be safely placed on frozen subgrade or that sometimes you have no choice but to move forward due to the owner’s fast-track schedule. Most committees will listen to that kind of argument.
And the final step: Before you leave, talk to the committee chairman and tell him you would like to become a member of the committee—that you feel your experience and knowledge would benefit the committee. With few exceptions, committees are looking for members with real-life experience and will be glad to have you.
But guess what comes next? You have to keep showing up, learning how best to contribute, and making your case. These things change slowly but if you’re always there, your voice will always be heard.